Progression of society has changed the kind of relationships we have. Open relationship is pretty much in an uncharted middle path. You hear about it, judgement screams in your head, or you applaud it, or simply envy it. But those who are in an open relationship will tell you that despite being open about sexual experimentation with other partners there are some serious ground rules that have to be followed to make it work. Lets first tell you what’s open relationships all about before we go on to the rules.
What do open relationships mean?
Open relationships are not the norm (yet), while hyper monogamous people treat it equivalent to cheating or not being committed enough, that is simply not the case.
Open relationship is the partnership between two people who are fulfilled by more than one sexual partner. The term can be confused with polyamory which means having partnership with many people at the same time. While open relationships are based on more sexual experiences maintaining the emotional bond with the actual partner, polyamory will have no such difference.
The paradigm of open relationships is changeable, according to the partners in the relationship, but there is some obvious groundwork to be laid out to make a smooth transition from monogamous to non-monogamous relationships. Open relationship is a part of non-monogamy, an umbrella term that comprises any relationship that does not carry any tag of exclusivity. Why, exclusive dating isn’t uncommon. But non-exclusive relationships often leave space for jealousy that might make it seem that open relationships are not meant for everyone. Some ground rules can make open relationships run smoothly though.
What are the rules for making an open relationship successful?
When we talk of rules of an open relationship, we basically imply that you stay protective of yourself and your partner(s). Setting ground rules for an open relationship are healthy and beneficial for all the partners in the relationship.
Rule 1: Be open about everything
Honesty is the best policy when you are going for an open relationship. You cannot have secrets with your partner about your other partners.
You need to discuss about the timeline, intimacy, things you do with your partners – everything under the sun should be out in the open.
Hiding things might create jealousy between your partner and you which imbalances the entire notion of open relationships. In fact, all partners must be asked about their interpretation of open relationship and what it means to them.
Rule 2: Do not undermine the feelings of your other partners
Just because you have a primary partner does not mean you undermine the feelings of other partners. Here too, honesty will come in handy. Let them know what you are looking for – just hookups or a relationship. You may need to be sensitive to a partner who feels threatened or jealous of someone else that you may be seeing. You may also need to set timings that you will be seeing for partners for each week or month, lest jealousy takes over your relationship.
Rule 3: Set boundaries and limitations
This is important for the partner in the primary relationship. Set sex boundaries. Set emotional boundaries. Do you have oral? Do you do roleplaying? BDSM? Is it okay to do sexual acts that you do not do with your partner? Talking about these things in advance will prevent jealousy, guilt, hurt and disappointment. What are the things that are off limits? Discuss everything in detail.
Emotional boundaries are more important than physical ones. It is crucial to discuss what emotional and social interactions are okay. Is it okay for your partner to go on a date with someone they met on a dating app? Is it okay if they meet in a social context? Talking about these things will prevent jealousy getting the better of your relationship.
Rule 4: Use protection
Safe sex should be a priority, more like a basic need. Having multiple partners can be an open invitation for STIs, STDs. Popping in an emergency contraceptive pill is not advisable, and you should avoid it as much as possible.
Question each other over using protection, be it in the form of condoms or dental dams if you have oral. Always use protection lest you transfer any disease you contract to your primary or other partners.
Rule 5: Be careful about who you hook-up with
Is it cool to hook-up with one of your partner’s classmates from high school? Or the boss from the company your partner worked before? Open relationships do not mean being open to everyone. Your partner might want to get intimate with people they already know while you might be uncomfortable with the idea that you might run into those people and create an awkward social situation. Getting personal with a Facebook friend is okay? Are Tinder dates not cool? Whatever it is, discussing with your partner might save the ugly arguments later.
Rule 6: Don’t underplay jealousy
One of the partners can get jealous over other people their partner is seeing. Don’t ride it out by keeping the emotions and feelings bottled up. Don’t ignore it either. Don’t say stuff like “Baby, you are just jealous”. Communication is important, open communication is very important – it is an open relationship after all. Don’t shame them for feeling jealous. Which brings me to the next rule.
Related reading: Signs of unhealthy jealousy in a relationship
Rule 7: Remind your partner that you love them
Gentle reminders everyday about how much you love them will make the open relationship thrive. There might be doubts in your partner’s mind about losing you to someone else, so it is important to tell them you want them fully in your life – sex or no sex, monogamous or non-monogamous.
Rule 8: Back out if it doesn’t work
Actually, this is the most important rule of any relationship, open or not. No matter how long you have been dating or been together, getting into an open relationship is a different ballgame altogether. It does not necessarily suit everyone, it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Of course, if there are too many issues cropping up in your open relationship, you might want to back out of it. Revisit it when you both have the same mindset.
Are open relationships healthy?
Open relationships are not the norm and some naysayers might cringe at the word itself, but open relationships are as healthy as monogamous relationships. It needs as much emotional, mental and physical work as a monogamous relationship.
So, are monogamous relationships healthy? There’s trust, passion, fights, cheating, breakups in open relationships just like in monogamous ones.
A recent article published in The New York Times stated that partners in open relationships experience the same levels of satisfaction, psychological wellbeing and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships.
Studies also said that any relationship that fulfills psychological and sexual needs are healthy, no matter the relationship structure.
So, yes. Open relationships like any other relationships are healthy as long as the partners are on the same wavelength and dispose significant mental, emotional and sexual energy and satisfaction.
Can open relationships work?
As long as dishonesty, jealousy and fear don’t ruin the relationship, open relationships can thrive. Before getting into an open relationship, there is something you need to ask yourself if you want your relationship to be open because of sexual freedom or is it a way to retreat from your partner.
Regular check-ins with your partner, maintaining absolute honesty and variations of the rules you set before you started can make open relationships as beautiful as you want it to be.
One golden rule though: Honesty. Every relationship survives on honesty and trust, and so do open relationships.